The Cat's Tenth Life
by Paul Carmichael
©1999 Paul Carmichael -- all rights reserved
Jonathan Bradley Taylor IV pulled over to the shoulder, shifted his Buick to park, then poured a glass of water. Jonathan Bradley Taylor V rubbed his temples and shook his head.
"It looks like you need your pills, son," Taylor said and patted his jacket pocket. "We're almost there, and the last thing we need is for you to have one of your headaches." Brad settled back in his seat.
"It's okay, Dad," he said looking up at his father. "It's not bad, and I just want to get this over with. You said we were going to Disney World, not to visit Grandfather Taylor way out here." He gestured toward the miles of open forest and pastureland.
"Yes, I did, and we will, but pouting isn't going to help, Bradley. We have to make this stop, get money from the old man, and get on the way. I was only a little older than you are now the last time I was here with my father and this place gives me the creeps, too."
"I guess," Brad said and took the water. "Is there any soda left?"
"Some, but once we get to the main house you can have anything you want. I swear the old man has a complete mall built into the north wing. And remember, when you do meet Grandfather Taylor for the first time just agree to anything he says, no matter how crazy or lame it sounds. Got that?"
"Yes, sir," Brad said. Taylor took out a pocket organizer and tried to type. "You want me to do that, Dad? You know you and machines don't get along," Brad said with a laugh.
"I'll manage..." A couple of curses later he turned back to his son. "Okay, since you're the computer whiz, you do it." Handing the device over to Brad, he pulled the Buick back on the road.
Cameras, electrified fences, and what looked like gun turrets lined the road to the Taylor Estate in The Middle of Nowhere, Canada. The grounds included huge cattle ranches, game preserves, and a variety of athletic centers, although Old Man Taylor never had any guests. The Estate also housed an army of servants, and entire families that worked the grounds. Two security guards checked the Taylors' identification, with the master computer at the house, before opening the gate to let the Buick through.
"We still have about a twenty minute drive to the house if you need your pills, Brad."
"No, thanks," the boy said and focused on a comic book.
Taylor sighed, and stopped himself from reprimanding the boy, again. He had acted the same way at twelve, when he didn't get his way, and he remembered being much worse the one time he was taken to visit Grandfather Taylor.
"There it is -- Castle Taylor."
Brad looked up, then started laughing so hard he choked. "That's not a mansion, that's a military installation. What does he have out here, nuclear missiles?"
The house spread over the landscape like the root system of a large tree. There was one central wing, with branches moving out in all directions without any sense of order. It looked like someone could walk for miles and miles through the house and never get anywhere.
Three men, in uniform, met the car, and opened the door. One took the keys to park it in the main garage. The other two escorted father and son to the door.
"The Master is expecting you, Master Taylor." A liveried servant met them at the door. "He sends his regrets that he will not be able to meet with you until tomorrow morning. In the mean time, you have free use of the house and facilities. I will show you both to your rooms, then you may have staff members give you a tour or bring you anything you request. Lunch and Dinner are served in the main dining room, and I will have menus sent to your rooms."
"Wow," Brad said. "Some place," he said as he caught his first glimpse inside.
The entrance foyer reminded Taylor of an airplane hanger -- only larger. A line of trees grew down the center of the hallway, while full greenhouses of plants decorated the walls. Mist shot from the ceiling at regular intervals, and the boy found the scent of grass and chlorophyll overwhelming.
A flock of children, both boys and girls approached Brad, and offered to show him around. With Taylor's okay, the boy was soon lost in the undergrowth.
"It's been a long trip here," Taylor told his valet. "Just take me to my room, and let me get my bearings."
The next morning, Taylor woke early, dressed, and knocked on his son's door.
"Brad! Time to get up." He had to grin at Brad's completely tousled appearance. Opening the boy's suitcase, he pulled out the suit. "You need to wear this."
"Dad, come on. I do have some taste in clothes."
"Yes, but Grandfather does not. We will have breakfast in a few minutes and meet Grandfather in the library right after that. Do you need these?" he asked a patted his jacket pocket.
"No," Brad said holding up the cream colored clothes. "Although if I have to wear this for long, I will." He dressed, in a dark brown shirt under the cream colored suit complete with brown socks and shoes. "Hey, look at me. I look like a Siamese cat."
Taylor finished brushing Brad's hair. "Well, come along kitten,' he laughed, "and I'll have the staff bring you a saucer of cream."
Breakfast at the Taylor Estate proved to be as elaborate an affair as the average state dinner. Taylor sat at one end of the table and Brad sat at the other, five hundred feet away. A full compliment of waiters brought in course after course of eggs, bacon, cereal, fish, and enough coffee and tea for a restaurant.
Taylor sat back, stuffed, and pulled out his organizer, and had a waiter pass it along to Brad. "Take a memo, kid. Three pots of coffee are too much for one sitting."
"Funny Dad. Real funny," Brad said, but typed in the note anyway. They rose from their seats and the waiters stood aside as still more servants brought in golf carts for the trek to the library.
"This is better than Disney World," Brad shouted out as they rode passed the mall and the fast food restaurants. "Look at all of the stuff. Can we move in?"
"Not likely, kiddo. Grandfather Taylor has never been known for saving money. He has to have at least one of everything."
The carts took them underground through what seemed like miles of tunnels before climbing up to the library wing. As they approached, the tunnel wall opened into the library proper. The drivers left as soon as the Taylors had stepped inside.
Brad followed behind his father, spinning around to see everything. The walls were covered with bookshelves that rose two and three stories about them. Potted plants lined the walls, and a blood red carpet lined the middle of the floor. The carpet circled around a clock face, easily twenty yards across.
Grandfather Taylor rose from a velvet covered chair, and used a cane to walk the few paces to greet his descendants. "Jon, how good to see you again. And look -- what a fine kitten you've brought me. Oh, this one is adorable. Would he let me pet him? Here, kitty, kitty."
Brad looked back at his father. He hadn't expect something this crazy, but his father pushed him forward. "Go on, kitten. Play for the nice man."
"I have a toy for you, kitty," Grandfather Taylor said and held out a plush mouse. "I just love kittens." Brad walked forward not sure what his grandfather expected to see. An old, gravely voice buzzed inside Brad's thoughts. "The choice is yours, boy. I am not as crazy as your father has told you. Do you listen to him, or to me?"
"What does the nice kitty say?" Grandfather Taylor said out loud.
With a long sigh, Brad glanced back at his father, then turned to the ancient man. "Meow."
"Good kitty, and so well trained," Grandfather Taylor said and tossed the mouse. Brad pounced on it. He batted the mouse with his hands, and picked it up in his teeth. He liked the taste of catnip. He brought his toy back to his father.
"Good, kitten," Taylor said and patted Brad on the head. Brad sat down on his haunches, dropped the mouse long enough to lick his hands. He shook his head for a moment, then stood up on all fours.
"Dad," he whispered but all that came out was another "Meow."
"Have a seat, Jon. It looks like we have a lot to talk about. But first, how much do you want for the kitten?"
"He's not for sale, Grandfather."
"One hundred thousand dollars? Two hundred?"
"Grandfather," Taylor sat down and Brad jumped up on his lap, purring. Taylor scratched his son's sharply pointed ears. "I didn't come all this way to sell a cat."
"Five hundred thousand. A fair price, considering all the money you've just spent on that cat. I am well aware of his medical bills, and the fact that you promised him a trip to Disney World. Rather extravagant for someone who has been neglecting his business as you have."
"There are reasons for that. But," he paused as fur covered Brad's head, and blended perfectly into his suit. A moment later Brad turned his head to wash his new tail. Taylor pushed the cat off his lap.
"Maybe you are right. Five hundred thousand would help with the bills, and he does make a great cat."
Brad fluffed his fur, and cried out.
"Done. Would you prefer cash or a check?"
"Cash, if you don't mind. I have an empty briefcase..." He watched the kitten playing, for real, with the catnip mouse. That was odd; although the change was complete, Brad seemed to be shrinking from adolescent cat to a very young kitten. "As I was saying..."
"No need to explain, Jon. This is never easy, is it? Ah, here she comes now." An adult Siamese cat trotted down the hallway, stood over Brad for a moment, then picked the kitten up. Brad dangled from the cat's mouth, relaxed.
"This way," Grandfather Taylor said. He followed the cat, slowly, to a separate room. Taylor found the cat curled up in a large basket with the kitten nursing. "You see. He will be well cared for. Five hundred thousand dollars, US, will be delivered to your room in about an hour. Now you can change your mind at any point and I will restore your son to human form, but you do not have much time. As you can see, the kitten's eyes are sealed shut, but when he opens them for the first time as a cat, the change will be permanent."
"I know," Taylor said. "I remember. Don't worry, you will have your kitten and I will take the money. I -- I just don't want to watch this."
"Understood, shall we?" They left the mother cat alone with her kitten, and returned to the Library. Once seated, Taylor took the offered drink. "I hated to do that, but..." He paused at a sudden flash of gold light. He turned to see the clock face in the floor shining with a gold light.
Grandfather Taylor walked over to the clock, opened the cover, and moved the hands backward with his cane.
"What are you doing?" Taylor asked watching the golden glow cover his grandfather.
"It's time. Young Brad has opened his eyes and has been changed forever to a cat. By doing so, he has given me the power to run this clock. Watch." Grandfather Taylor dropped his cane, stood up straighter and laughed as the changes started. In seconds, the old man looked younger -- much younger. For a moment he stood taller and straighter than he had in his son's recent memory, but that lasted only for a moment. As he watched, Grandfather Taylor shrank down to the size of a twelve-year-old boy.
"There," the boy said. "It's done, thanks to you and your wish for money."
"Grandfather, you look just like Brad. What did you do?"
"Nothing that I haven't done many times before," he said and danced around the clock face. "Time has never meant anything to me, Jon. I first made this bargain almost nine hundred years ago, and once again, I am about to start my life over -- as your son, Well not your son, Jon, but as J. B. Taylor, V, heir apparent to the Taylor fortune. I will have the best schooling that money can buy, and this whole complex as a playground."
"But Grandfather, how? What bargain?" Taylor said, barely hiding his shock. He refilled his glass while struggling to regain his wits.
"With Fate. It can be done, and I did it. Jon, you will not believe this, but I was born in the Middle Ages. Powers walked the Earth then, real powers that could be approached by mortals. After all, I was born a witch's cat. I was an all black alley cat, to be sure, but a cat none the less. As a familiar, however, I learned my share of magic, and how to become human, but I wanted more. I wanted to be human -- and immortal. And I have succeeded.
"You see," the boy said, and pulled a cold soft drink from the cooler. "Fate gives everyone a potential life span at birth - three score and ten or some such figure, but that is a potential. It does not take into account accidents, or wars, or suicide, and believe me, I have seen it all in my time.
"But, what happens to that potential when it's cut short? That is the bargain I made with Fate. I can claim that potential for life by using this clock that my first mistress made so many years ago.
"Take Brad, for instance, a child who had the potential of living a long life span, but that was cut short by his turning into a cat. How many years does a cat have? Eighteen? The difference in Brad's potential human life span, and his cat's life span is mine." Suddenly, he grimaced, spun around and grabbed his head with both hands.
"Oh, Grandfather, I am so sorry. I came here to have Brad turned into a cat. I had no idea that you were doing something like this."
Grandfather Taylor looked up from his pounding headache. "What do you mean?"
"Do you remember when my father brought me here? He gave in and I turned back from a kitten. I've always regretted that. I liked being a cat, but here I am. And here you are." Taylor dug in his pants pocket and brought out a bottle of pills. "Take one of these, you'll feel better."
The new Brad snatched the bottle and read the label, "Dilaudid? I have a headache and need aspirin, not a narcotic."
"You will find that aspirin will not touch that headache. Grandfather, I brought Brad here, instead of being extravagant and taking him to Disney World, because he is -- or was dying. All those medical bills you mentioned? Brad has an inoperable brain tumor -- an astrocytoma, grade four, they call it -- and it was cutting his life short. The reason I have neglected my business? I wanted to spend time with my son while he was alive. I didn't tell him why I brought him here. He would have refused if he had known, but I thought by letting you make that bargain and turn him into a cat would -- if nothing else -- stop his pain.
"Now, Grandfather, you took on Brad's human potential and that is measured in weeks."
"I should have known," Grandfather Taylor said taking two of the pain killers. "This was my tenth life, after all. Even I couldn't fool Fate on that."
A week later, Taylor was able to lay his grandfather to rest. The boy had taken his sickness well, and had offered to rewrite his will. Now, riding back to the Estate in a limousine as long as an ocean liner, he had it all. His son was a frisky little kitten, and the old man was, at last, six feet under. He would have a battery of lawyers and accountants flown in from New York to go over the estate, liquidate it, and set him up for life, a long life, with his grandfather's clock in Tahiti. Or maybe the French Riviera?
Taylor hurried to the library wing, ran to the clock, and opened the cover. The clock still had the same golden glow, and now it was his. He removed the cover and moved the hands backward. The glow surrounded him, and made him shrink. Yes, Taylor, thought, with this much money he could afford to be a child again... A child with wrinkled hands? Taylor stepped out of the golden light to find himself hunched over with age. Sharp pain invaded every joint he had. His eye sight dimmed. "What?" he croaked out. A kitten, a very young Siamese kitten bounced into the golden glow, and promptly grew back into a twelve-year-old boy.
"Dad, how often do I have to tell you? You can't use machines."
"Don't worry, Dad, or Grandpa now, I'll take good care of you."
Taylor shuffled over to the nearest chair, and sat down. "What happened? You should have been a cat forever, you little..."
"Go on, say it, Dad. I know what you thought about me -- I'm a wimp, a weakling and a fool. You lied to Grandfather Taylor, didn't you? I never had cancer. I've never taken narcotics in my life. Just aspirin for my headaches. What was it that you gave Grandfather? Slow acting poison?"
"Something like that," Taylor said. "But why am I so old?"
"Because you're too impatient, Dad. You always have been. With me, when I get a headache. With Mom, when she left with her boyfriend, and with every machine you have tried to use. You didn't listen to instructions, Dad. You had to make a bargain with Fate to operate that clock. Did you?"
"No," Taylor said with a shudder.
"That's the one thing Grandfather Taylor never bothered to tell you. Humans can't make bargains with Fate or the other powers now. They have all but left this world to human science. But cats can."
"What do you mean, cats can?" Taylor said, and coughed.
"Cats can, and do, make such bargains all the time. I did, since kittens are much more intelligent than cats. But you -- you made no such bargain, and Fate had his say. He's really nice, Dad, once you get to know him. And from the looks of things, Dad, that will be real soon.
"But, like I said, I'll take real good care of you, just like you took care of me with my headaches. I'm not going to have them anymore. Grandfather took them with him. And the new version of your will has already been filed with your lawyers."
Taylor shrugged. He heard Brad's words, but from far away. He let Brad and the servants take him to his room, and put him to bed. "I should have stayed a cat."
Brad patted his father's old and wrinkled hand. "But then you wouldn't have had me to take care of you, Grandpa. I didn't want to be a cat, and I'm not sorry I changed back."
Taylor settled himself in, wondering if Brad had told the truth about Fate.